New Market Sales 101 – Part One, starting the wrong way
By: Travis E. Blythe
Recently I undertook a huge task of trying to establish a new market. Unfortunately the results were less then satisfying, and the whole project was pulled only after 4 months of my time. I know that most people are thinking the same thing that I am, “it doesn’t seem like they gave it much of a chance.” I would concur with that statement, but in their eyes, my four months plus the person before me’s four months equaled 8 months. Which is a shame because the company did have potential, but like any new market, you have to expect a build up time of at least 1-yr, especially if there is not any existing business to start with.
So here I am ready to undertake a huge project of injecting a new company into a market where they have never really been before (it was determined that the previous person never left the house and didn’t do anything for four months). So project number one was brand building. I am fortunate enough to have been in this industry for over 10 years, so the contacts I have, I knew would come in handy. My first target was to associate the new company with me, with my previous track record and reputation, I knew that I could bring business in with my name alone. I was able to successfully bring in more business in my first two-weeks then the previous person did in 4-months. Good for me, so I thought.
The DFW metroplex is a huge area and there are over 80 accounts alone to get business from. After my first month I was feeling pretty confident about being successful with this service I was providing. unfortunately, this is where things started to go downhill. I know how to successfully market a territory from scratch, I know what it takes and how to get your brand out there in front of people to establish yourself in a market where there are minimum of 10 competitors who do the same exact service calling on the same exact people. So lesson number one was “Never undertake a task without asking more questions”. I was under the impression that since this was a “National” provider, they actually had a market share. Come to find out, they actually were not on any approved vendor lists for the major accounts in the industry. Why was this important? Well, for starters, if you eliminate the top 10 companies to get business from, it really leaves a bunch of small accounts who do not have the case load to provide a steady stream of business. Which in turn means that you have to rely on sporadic business.
So then I approached this problem from a different angle. I researched which companies in other markets were giving us business. My thinking was that if XYZ was giving us business in Florida and Georgia, I was sure that my counterparts would be able to get me a POC for the same companies here. Unfortunately that was another mistake on my part. I am used to a team mentality when it comes to a sales force. I successfully ran a sales team across the country and implemented this philosophy so that we could “help each other out”. I quickly learned that we did not have a sales team but more of a bunch of account “manager” who “Farmed” accounts and were too scared to ever speak to a manager or higher for fear of jeopardizing the account. So basically I had no help and I was told not to contact the other accounts in other markets.
So I don’t have any existing book of business, no past business to follow up on(I had to put out fires on the previous business brought in by the previous rep, so no repeat business here), or accounts in other markets where we do get business to help me get in the door. My next difficult task was to correct all of the problems we had with not knowing the Texas laws. So my first set of business I brought in was a disaster because we pretty much screwed the pooch on all of the files, because nobody knew what they were doing at home office. So this equaled no repeat business, even though all of this business was from dear friends in the industry helping me get started. I tried to overcome this by taking control of my cases myself and getting rid of the “help”. Which did end up helping on the new business I was still getting, but not any of my old business.
So here is a thought, if no one is familiar with your products or services, and you have never been in a market before, wouldn’t it make sense to maybe attend a trade show? Maybe exhibit at a couple of industry conferences to help build brand awareness? I thought so, but the powers that be decided that it would be a waste of money and I should try to “sneak in” and guerrilla market on my own. Unfortunately my reputation is valuable to me and I do not “sneak in” especially when I used to be the one scheduling conferences and trade shows with my last company and most of them know me. I would be later told they had “sticker shock” because it cost so much in this market. Well, welcome to a Major Market! Unlike a smaller market like Colorado or Las Vegas, where everything is dirt cheap, DFW is a major hub for this industry. More people, more clients, more vendors, more money to be made, so a wee bit higher of cost associated with it. It is tough when all of your major competitors are at a booth handing out marketing materials and gaining good quality leads on decision makers and POC, and you are on the sideline watching. So I guess the old philosophy “spend money to make money” was true. It is kind of funny that if you are considering someone’s base salary sinking money into a market, then you never should have started in the first place.
My last great hope was that the company would at least take my advise and get certified with the state to be able to teach Continuing Education Classes. Here is Texas, many of the clients here utilize them from vendors because they are free and it gives them an opportunity to have the employees get hours in order to maintain their licenses. The process takes at the most 2-weeks to complete. After 4 1/2 months and countless times of asking, it was never done to my knowledge. From my point of view, this would have opened doors that were shut due to not being on a vendor panel. It would get your name out there and possibly speed up the process of the panel selection or addition. Furthermore it gets you in front of offices that have a “no vendor” policy which prohibits you from just wandering around and speaking with people. You not only have people in a room for an hour, you get to give them your information and get them hours and above all, market!!
So what did I learn from this experience? Above all, I learned I really should have done more due diligence on the company. I needed to understand more about the wall I was up against from the beginning. I needed to know that there would be no training, no help from team members and above all that the window of opportunity would only be 4-months. Live and learn and know how to grow from your experiences!
In part two of this article, I will talk about how to effectively market a new territory and the steps you really need to take in order to be successful.